An Interview with Lisa Clark, Vegan Baker and Pastry Revolutionary of Petunia’s Pies and Pastries
What inspired you to open a vegan bakery?
I have been baking since I was a tiny kid. I have always loved to. I learned from my mother. I’ve loved food, cooking, baking, and eating since I was tall enough to see over the kitchen counter. I watched, tasted, smelled, and fell in love with the kitchen, and creating, nurturing, and bringing excitement and joy through food. I went to college at University of Oregon for Sociology and Business. I learned about my severe food intolerances, mainly gluten & dairy, and health issues while in school. After graduation I baked in a couple of bakeries in town, in Portland, OR where I grew up, and learned a ton about production baking and classical French technique. But, I could not eat any of it. So, I decided to do something about it. I began writing all of my own recipes and had unbelievable results. I decided to make everything I came up with all gluten free and vegan from the get-go.
Are you vegan yourself?
I myself, am not vegan, but was already baking mostly vegan. Because of this, I decided to make everything vegan so I could create items for even more people and make more people happy. Anyone can eat everything when its prepared vegan and gluten-free whether they’re lactose intolerant, allergic to eggs, gluten intolerant, etc.
Once I decided to start the business, I applied to be in the Portland Farmers market. Then, Whole Foods approached me about selling my pastries wholesale to them. From there, I grew the wholesale part of the business and have been supplying for over year and a half to many local grocers and cafes in Portland. I began working at more farmers markets, started doing weddings, events, holiday orders, anything I could get. I hired a few girls along the way to help, and with a tiny team we grew to almost 50 wholesale accounts. We opened my first brick and mortar bakery in March of 2013 in downtown Portland. Now, we do online sales as well as catering, baking mixes, a lot!
There are 15 of us now, and we are learning, growing, evolving, and working to make people happy each day! There is such a huge need for these kind of products in the world, and our customers are loyal and dedicated. Our pastries bring people to tears because they are so happy to be able to eat a doughnut, a slice of cake, an ice cream sandwich just like a “normal” person! They feel cared for, and not isolated and like the odd one out. I actually don’t advertise that the business is gluten free or vegan in the store, and most people have no idea. We get so many more customers that way! Then, when they find out down the road, they are shocked and confused, and then accept that it’s just the best desert around, and it happens to be gluten free and vegan, so no big deal. That way, EVERYONE can sit and eat and enjoy together, no matter who they are.
I do this to honor my mom, and to make these people happy, to challenge myself, to create and think outside of the box, and to open up people’s eyes to something new, a new way, new ideas. I like to provoke people, encourage, inspire, and see enthusiasm and excitement in their eyes.
What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to vegan desserts?
People assume that vegan desserts are “weird”, earthy, all soy-based, and a joke. They associate veganism with an attitude, and don’t necessarily understand what it’s all about, and automatically put blinders up. People don’t always accept things they do not understand, or things they are not familiar with. People assume that you need flour, milk, eggs, butter to make a dessert. There are many KINDS of flours, other fats, other binders, other agents to make foods creamy, etc. The idea is still new to many people, but typically if they try something without dairy, they won’t know the difference, and chances are, their tummy will feel better afterward.
What are some of your best tips when it comes to baking delicious vegan pies and pastries?
When baking vegan pastries, my tips are to relax, it’s not that different. Same principles, measure carefully, mix thoroughly, add slowly, be accurate. Always think about the ingredients you’re using and what they do.
Do you have any favorite go-to products?
I love using flax meal or chia seed mixed with water or pureed zucchini, banana, pumpkin and applesauce to bind things together. Great for moisture, too! Use any nut milks you like, or coconut, hemp, etc. I love coconut milk and cream. Coconut oil is great too. Use good ingredients—seasonal, fresh. I encourage people to experiment. Have fun, don’t be intimidated!
What is your personal favorite baked item?
I love anything that is a dessert! The last few years my tastes have changed. I love cookies, always. They always make you feel cozy. I love pies. Crust and fruit. I love a good moist cake without the frosting, and ice cream. I am slightly addicted. Vanilla, creamy, comforting, and simple. Once in a while, I will make some crazy bowl of it filled with every topping I can find in sight – sunflower butter, walnuts, maple syrup, coconut, chocolate chips…go nuts. Depends on the type of day I had!
What do you find to be most popular during the holiday season?
During the holidays, people love pumpkin, spices, caramel, mint, anything with bourbon, nuts, and anything sparkly. Cute festive touches make a big difference. I don’t think it matters what you make, as long as it’s a treat, and you are excited to share it!
Please share anything else you would like to add.
Overall, dessert and treats should be fun. They excite people, provoke them, cause a reaction, and speak to a part of them that makes anyone feel like a kid again, even the most serious critic. I love to watch this process in people, and see them enjoy themselves. I think we need a little more practice enjoying and appreciating the simple things in the world today, to loosen up, get perspective, and realize how lucky we all are. And, dessert always works.
Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake
~from Petunia’s Pies and PastriesMAKES ABOUT 10 SERVINGS
Gluten-free nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil, for greasing pan
Millet flour, for dusting pan
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon white rice flour
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon millet flour
2/3 cup almond flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
3 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon egg substitute (see note)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 2 1/2 oranges
Orange glaze (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
To make cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 1/2-inch Bundt pan (about 10-cup capacity) well with gluten-free nonstick cooking spray or grease with oil. Coat the pan with millet flour and tap out any excess.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the white rice flour, millet flour, almond flour, tapioca flour, ground flaxseeds, baking powder and salt; set aside.
Put the egg substitute and the water in a food processor and process until fluffy. (Note: A food processor works best for this, but you can also whisk the mixture by hand.) In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, olive oil, egg-water mixture and orange zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently combine with a spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 65 to 75 minutes. If using optional glaze, prepare it while cake is baking
To make glaze:
Stir together the powdered sugar and the orange juice until mixture is smooth.
Cool the cake completely in the pan. Using a mini offset spatula, gently loosen the cake from the edges and center of the pan. Invert the cake onto a serving platter. If using glaze, drizzle over the cake.